Last month I was in Mandalay, Myanmar’s growing, bustling second city, and also home to some of Asia’s poorest people.
Today’s Myanmar is a far cry from the country I saw after the devastating Cyclone Nargis hit in 2008. Myanmar is moving fitfully from dictatorship to a more open society but remains beset with social, political and environmental challenges.
The previous week, our Foreign Affairs Minister, Julie Bishop, was in New York, where Australia signed up to the UN’s new Global Goals for Sustainable Development.
The new goals follow the successes achieved through the Millennium Development Goals, in place since 2001.
At the General Assembly a few days later, Julie Bishop asserted a new direction in Australia’s foreign policy agenda – more ambitious, and explicitly expressing Australian values. Specifically, she committed Australia to promote the rights of women and girls, and to campaign for the universal abolition of the death penalty.
Too often today’s world sees faith as a source of conflict rather than inspiration for unity and progress. But I think this comes from too much focus on religious differences rather than on the power of faith teachings to move humanity forward.
In fact, faith has been a vital force in human progress. Even in seemingly secular Australia, I find most people still hold fast to core precepts that Jesus taught. They believe in the Golden Rule, and that the measure of a good society is how we treat “the least of these”. Often they express their belief not in words but in deeds of kindness, charity and solidarity.
As a nation we need to walk the talk when it comes to living out our better values. Julie Bishop’s ambitious commitments are an encouraging start. But our treatment of refugees remains a rebuke to the Christian conscience. Full reconciliation, constitutional recognition and closing the gap on Indigenous health are also vitally important.
And, of course, it is profoundly disturbing that one of the wealthiest societies in history has cut its aid program to the lowest level in decades. We can make a world of difference to children like those I met in Myanmar. We need to lift our gaze and think how high we can reach with kingdom values powering our flight.